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More people using Facebook for health info before face time with a physician

3 min read


Using Wikipedia as a source for an academic paper will still get most people into hot water, yet a growing number of people are turning to even more dubious sites to verify facts for information about their health.

A survey of nearly 23,000 Americans, released last month by the National Research Corporation, says that 20% use social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to help make health care decisions, with one in four saying the information found there was “likely” or “very likely” to affect their course of action.

Perhaps more telling was that 32% said they had a “very high” trust in social media — only 7.5% of respondents rated their trust level as “very low.”

These are not the young or poor making these decisions, either. The survey found the average age to be 41, while those with a household income of $75,000 or above were more likely than lesser earners to look to social media sites for health information.

While some hospitals, doctors and other medical providers have entered the realm of Facebook, doing so is still more the exception than the rule. And most pharmaceutical companies are balking at doing much in that space while the FDA is still discussing what sort of regulations should be in place there.

The conclusion, then, is that many people are seeking out health information from one another — friends or fellow disease-sufferers — which has been the finding of social media analysis firm wool.labs.

Prostate Cancer International co-founder and President Michael Scott, at a wool.labs event (co-sponsored by SmartBrief) in Philadelphia last month, said patients have a tendency to define adherence to a treatment  by “doing things that make [them] feel better.” Gathering information from fellow patients to help make a decision, then, is not so unusual, but can be fraught with hazards.

“My goal is to help people use the Internet smartly,” said Scott, who runs a social media site in which he groups people together with similar issues while providing as much expert insight to questions as possible.

This has been a recurring theme of late, with doctors pushing the FDA to rein in health care mobile applications to help cut down on the risk of bad information that may lead patients astray.

One positive of the NRC survey, however: Health provider websites remained the top choice for tracking down health information, with 50% of respondents preferring that as a top source.